The Lofty Chronicles: 7 — Animal Encounters

Animal Encounters

Robert & Lauren (1991)
Robert & Lauren (1991)

June 1992

The Fawn (Monday, 1 June 1992) This morning, while Mary and I are watching a surveying crew work their way down the stream which marks our shared boundary line, I notice a new-born fawn curled up next to a fallen log. Mary and the lead surveyor had already walked past it. It is exquisitely camouflaged, the mottled brown and white blending into the fallen leaves. And it’s perfectly still. Only the fawn’s eyes are moving, ever so slightly, following us.

After watching it for a few moments, Mary leaves to get Sage and I go looking for Lauren. When Lauren and I return, Mary and Sage are already there. The fawn has risen up on wobbly legs and is standing behind the log. Then it runs down the hill and lies down again, this time by the edge of the stream.

The rest of the surveying crew are working along the stream bed, heading directly toward the fawn, which is partially in the water. Not seeing anything better to do, I go down to the stream and pick up the fawn. It’s about the size of a small goat. It sounds like one, too. In a surprisingly loud voice, it begins bleating, “Ma-a-a-a, m-a-a-a-a.”

Lauren and Sage (as well as Mary and I) melt with wonder at this little creature. We each say a brief hello and goodbye, then I carry it further up the hillside, where it will be out of the way of the surveyors, and set it down. It runs on up the slope on teetery legs, bleating as it goes. Then it disappears behind some shrubs. Listening to its plaintive call, we know that its mother won’t have any trouble finding it again.

Gatto’s Revolutionary Perspective (Tuesday, 2 June 1992) I guess you could call it a relapse. Or the need for further recuperation from the effects of my birthday sickness. Or, and this gets closer to home, the need for more complete assimilation.

It feels like something is lodged in my stomach, tormenting me, not letting me get comfortable in any position. Even now, several days later, my energy level and digestive system aren’t quite right. That’s why I’ve stopped eating and have decided to stay in bed all day. Recuperation. Assimilation.

On a non-literal, “dream” level, I’m still trying to digest that John Taylor Gatto tape on compulsory public schooling, which elicited such a gale of tears when I first listened to it on the morning of my birthday.

Joyce comes in to briefly keep me company. She, too, is sensing that the impact of Gatto goes far beyond the question of Lofty’s home schooling.

“It’s not just about changing a piece of the educational puzzle,” she says. “It’s like putting on a new pair of glasses. Everything you see, you see differently—the whole accepted definition of what life’s all about. It’s not about doing everything right. It frees me up not to do what other people want me to. It makes me bold.”

We’re Both Doctors (Tuesday, 2 June 1992) Lofty and Eli are down at the house this morning. I overhear a brief snatch of their conversation.

“Let’s play doctor,” Eli suggests.

I chuckle to myself, wondering if that still means what it used to mean when I was a kid. “O.K.” says Lofty. “We’ll both be doctors and there’s been an accident somewhere.”

“Yeah,” replies Eli, not taking the cue. “I’ll be the doctor and you be the nurse.”

“No,” says Lofty, with mild emphasis, “We’re both doctors.”

“Oh. Well, O.K.”

And the game gets under way.

The Intervention Threshold (Tuesday, 2 June 1992) When kids get into trouble, how soon should the adults intervene? The intervention threshold fluctuates from parent to parent, of course, and from situation to situation. Personally, I tend to favor a rather high threshold. Problems are such a precious commodity. We need to be careful, as adults, not to rob our children of their problems.

The Trickery of the Spirit (Tuesday, 2 June 1992) It occurs to me this afternoon that I’ve been so good about taking care of my lower back, doing the daily exercises so religiously, that a bad back can no longer be reliably used as a way of immobilizing me for several days in order to “force” me to assimilate something I’ve been too busy to attend to. I’m inwardly amused that the Spirit has had to resort to yet another trick, such as my birthday illness, in order to effect the same result.

“The Spirit must have quite a number of such devices,” I think to myself.

“You can’t begin to imagine,” replies an amused inward voice, “how many tricks the Spirit has up Its sleeve.”

The Evil Corpse in the Package (Friday, 12 June 1992) Lofty awakens with a powerful dream this morning. In the dream, she’s standing by our mailbox with Lilly. A large package has been delivered. Lofty is sure that it will contain “a small, evil corpse.”

When they open it, however, they find instead a number of gift-wrapped presents, as though for a birthday or for Christmas. Lofty is greatly surprised and relieved.

[A note added toward the end of August: This is an amazing dream. I remember being puzzled and bothered by it, and asked Lofty to share it with me several times. The feeling-tone of the dream just didn’t seem to match the circumstances of her life, as far as I was then aware of them. We now know more. And my already deep respect for dreams gets another strong boost.]

Where Do You Sell Your Calligraphy? (Sunday, 14 June 1992) Joyce and I are packaging some of our calligraphy pieces today when Lofty pokes her head up the stairs.

“Where do you sell your calligraphy?”

“In stores, mostly,” Joyce replies.

“Do you sell them at the Augusta store?”

Augusta is an Appalachian traditional arts center in West Virginia. Joyce spends a week there each summer as an assistant calligraphy instructor. Last year she took Lofty along, and will again this year. There’s a small store on campus where the crafts people and musicians sell their art work and musical tapes.

Getting an affirmative nod, Lofty continues, “Do you think I could sell some of my little notebooks there?”

She’s been making pocket-sized notebooks lately, with brightly colored covers.

“No, I don’t think so. Only the instructors can sell things in the store.”


Then, overcoming her initial disappointment, she brainstorms her way into a decision to make enough notebooks so that she can give one to each of the kids in the Augusta children’s program, which she’ll be participating in.

“Maybe our teacher can use them as part of an art project for the class,” she says, and happily goes back downstairs to continue working on them.

Later she shows us her collection–a rainbow array of small notebooks, neatly displayed in a small box. She says we can each have one.

A Spelling Lesson (Sunday, 14 June 1992) I’m fixing a big salad for supper. Lauren comes in from the porch with paper and pencil in hand.

“How do you spell radical?” she asks.

I spell it out. She copies it onto her paper, obviously making a caption for some drawing.

“What in the world does she want that word for?” I wonder, trying to imagine how she’s using it. It’s not until her next question, however, that the usage became clear.

“How do you spell dude?”

I smile and give her the letters. “Radical, dude!” is part of the Ninja Turtle lingo. So I stash the phrase away in a mental file, to be brought out again at some opportune moment.

I envision being in the garden with her. She’s pulling up one of her sweet-tasting carrots. And I casually say, “That’s radical, dude!”

Then I share a little secret with her: that the hidden meaning of radical is “root.”

This will intrigue her, the idea that words have secret meanings. She’s big into Pig Latin as a private language these days. If the timing’s right, and my touch is light, maybe the Ninja Turtles can be a doorway into the delights of etymology.

Red Ninja (by Lauren)
Red Ninja


Take Me Out to the Ball Game (Tuesday, 16 June 1992) I’m in the loft this afternoon. Lauren’s singing in the living room.

“…Buy me some peanuts and cracker jacks, I don’t care if we never get back.”

Eli’s birthday is coming up. Lauren’s been invited. They’re going down to Salem to see a baseball game. The Salem Buccaneers (a farm team for, I believe, the Pittsburgh Pirates) will be playing a team from North Carolina.

It will be her first baseball game and she’s already excited. She got Joyce to teach her the lyrics to “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” And this morning she was looking at the sports section of the paper with me, seeing what kind of record Salem has, and who the best hitters and pitchers are. Now she’s all primed to, “Root, root, root for the home team, if they don’t win it’s a shame…”

Animal Encounters (Thursday, 18 June 1992) This morning I find a weasel on the side of the driveway, probably killed by an owl or a cat. It’s only the second weasel I’ve seen in the eighteen years we’ve lived here. I take it up to show Lofty, who’s intrigued. It has a small, lithe body, bright eyes (even in death), and sharp teeth. It lies curled, life-like, in the palm of my hand.

In the afternoon, a large Cecropia moth, newly emerged from its cocoon, crawls to a porch post by the kitchen door and rests there at eye level for several hours while it finishes pumping life into its wings. We pause as we pass by, admiring its intricate beauty. When its wings have strengthened sufficiently, it flies a spiral path into the poplar tree overhead.

Later, when Joyce and Lofty are near our mailbox, they come upon a snapping turtle by the side of the road. It has crawled up out of the frog pond to lay its eggs in one of Edgar’s fields. Once again there’s an opportunity, this time from a safe distance, to examine the critter at length.

“She was ugly,” Lauren tells me.

Now and then, for a brief, shimmering moment or two, I blink away the blinders of familiarity and give thanks for this lifestyle. What a special blessing it is to be able to see other creatures going about their daily business of living and dying, independent of our ponderous human endeavors.

Soul Food (Thursday, 18 June 1992) Our personal circumstances are grist for the mill and food for the soul.

They Thought I Was a Boy (Friday, 19 June 1992) Joyce, Lauren, and I are at an outdoor concert in Blacksburg with Lilly and Sandy tonight. While the staid adults sit on the grass enjoying the music, Lauren quickly joins a group of kids playing tag among the trees and bushes near by. Not until the concert is over does she show up, tired and happy.

“They thought I was a boy,” she announces with a smile, referring to her new friends.

“And why do you want to be a boy?” Sandy asks.

“Because girls can’t take off their shirts.”

Ah, yes. Slowly the memory comes into focus. It’s been several years now. A small town in North Carolina. Joyce and Lauren are there visiting family. They’ve gone to a neighborhood playground. It’s stinking hot. Lauren, who’s five, has taken off her shirt and is running around in a skirt.

On the swings is a group of girls, 8 or 9 years old, that Lauren’s trying to befriend. They are shunning her tentative approaches, however, and are making fun of her because she’s shirtless. Having grown up with the freedom to run around naked in the hot summer months, Lauren can’t figure out what’s troubling these girls. She’s confused, and hurt by their rejection.

Finally, a self-appointed committee of several girls comes over to Joyce.

“Why do you let her go around without a top on?” one of them asks in an accusatory tone.

Joyce is impressed by their willingness to explore the question and to confront someone who is clearly, through their eyes, being negligent in her role as a mother.

So Joyce explains our lifestyle to the girls, who are remarkably receptive.

Then she hikes Lauren’s long skirt up above her non-existent breasts. This conciliatory gesture, along with Joyce’s explanation, seems to satisfy the girls. They take Lauren off to the swings with them and integrate her into their circle of friends.

Recalling this incident, I sense the intricate tapestry of factors, both personal and cultural, that have coalesced into Lauren wanting to be called “Lofty,” and her pleasure at having been taken for a boy earlier this evening.

[Looking back at this June journal entry from the vantage point of August, I am searingly aware of another, and even more compelling reason for Lauren needing to take refuge in being a boy. And my heart brims with sadness and anger.]

The Deer Attacking the Dog (Tuesday, 23 June 1992) Joyce glances out the large west window of our house to see a deer attacking a dog. The deer is chasing it, nipping it, rearing up and pawing at it. Recovering from our astonishment, we realize that the dog must be after the deer’s fawn.

I dash outside to drive the dog away. The deer bounds off, but the dog keeps trying to get past me, to get at the fawn. Then the deer returns, walks slowly toward us, waits for the dog to see her, and then leads him off on a wild goose chase.

I’ve watched a quail fake a broken wing in order to lure me away from her nest. But I’ve never heard of a deer doing something similar. What an extraordinary demonstration of the maternal instinct.

Going Into Her Closet (Wednesday, 24 June 1992) Lauren and I are down at the house. She’s in her room; I’m in the living room.

“You want to see my meditation area?” she asks.

I’m a bit startled. You don’t hear the word “meditation” float around here too much. We find other words for it, like “sitting,” and try to allow Lauren’s germinal interest in this facet of our lifestyle to ripen naturally. So I wonder what she’s up to.

Walking over to her room and peering in, I see that she’s sitting in what was formerly her closet. The shelves are still there, with stacks of folded shirts and pants. But all her hanging clothes have been moved elsewhere, and she’s sitting quietly in the newly created space.

“You like it?” she asks.

I nod.

It occurs to me to pass on what Jesus had to say about the proper place for prayer: “When thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret.”

I manage to keep the door of my own mouth shut, however, and leave her to her solitude.

Mama Hen (Friday, 27 June 1992) I’m scything tall grass by the edge of the driveway, out by the mailboxes. The sweep of the blade occasionally uncovers small clusters of wild strawberries. Now and then I bend down, gather a handful, and eat them.

One of the children from the Hollow House is sitting at the top of his driveway, watching me intently. The scything seems to fascinate him, as do my strawberry snacks. After a while he wanders over. I offer him a few berries, which he shyly accepts. Soon he’s following close behind, scanning the newly mown swath for more.

He’s joined by a brother and a sister. Then Lofty and Becky, who are watching the horses, get curious and come over, too. That makes five children trailing along in my wake, finding just enough berries to keep them all searching.

Suddenly I laugh aloud. Just yesterday I’d seen one of Stanley’s mama hens scratching up grubs for her clutch of biddies, who were hustling along close at her heels, pecking at whatever she turned over. And here I now am, a mama hen myself, uncovering treats for a brood of hungry youngsters.

Horsepower (Saturday, 28 June 1992) Becky and Alysia’s family just bought a new Toyota pickup. Very powerful. 160 horsepower. And very expensive. A puzzling choice of vehicles for a large family, it seems, looked at from the outside. But when Willie says it can pull a two-horse trailer, the missing piece of the puzzle falls into place.

Alysia, who’s been giving Lofty riding lessons, and her sister Becky, will be wanting to compete in the horse shows that are an integral part of the Virginia tradition. And you obviously have to be able to transport the horses and their riders to the shows. A small compact car, or even a station wagon, can’t pull that kind of a load.

So now Willie commutes to his new job as postmaster in a Toyota pickup. And the girls are preparing to compete in the horse shows. And I’m left to marvel at modern technology, which harnesses up one hundred and sixty horses in order to pull two.